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Jim Bovino and Jillia Pessenda, who run California Street Farm, got the rows prepped in northeast Minneapolis Thursday during this unusually garden-friendly spring. Of the City Council committee’s move Thursday, Bovino said “It’s a great start.”

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Jim Bovino and Jillia Pessenda have turned an unused and unsightly patch of land into tilled beds crowded with vegetables.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Jillia Pessenda gave the greenhouse plants a splash before taking off for her regular job.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

New rules would loosen the soil for urban farms

  • Article by: BRYNA GODAR
  • Star Tribune
  • March 22, 2012 - 11:34 PM

Farming in the city got a boost from the Minneapolis City Council Thursday, after a council committee approved new zoning that would legalize market gardens and urban farms.

Council Member Cam Gordon proposed the zoning amendment to clear up uncertainties and regulatory barriers that have prevented city residents from selling what they grow. While cities across the nation are welcoming farms on vacant lots, some on the council felt that limits were needed, in particular about how long farm stands can operate and the size of temporary greenhouses called "hoop houses."

Across the country, cities are embracing urban farming as a way to beautify neighborhoods, encourage local healthy food, create jobs and educate city-dwellers. Advocates for urban farms in Minneapolis applauded the new rules, which are scheduled to go before the full council March 30.

"It's a great start," Jim Bovino said about the council's action. Bovino and his wife are cultivating what had been a patch of brown scraggly grass and packed dirt on California Street in northeast Minneapolis.

In the past week, a number of freshly tilled beds have appeared on the lot. Neighbors can see the couple working among the weeds. This summer, the area will flourish with bright reds, lush greens, and deep purples as everything from tomatoes to broccoli to eggplants sprout from the ground. The couple plan to sell the produce to individuals and restaurants.

"Urban farming is as local as it gets," said Nate Watters of Stone's Throw Urban Farm, which already cultivates lots in Minneapolis and St. Paul. "It's really important, I think, for people to be connected to where their food comes from."

Under the new rules, farmers would be allowed to sell their harvest on site 15 days a year. The original proposal of 25 days raised concerns with some council members about traffic and noise that could annoy neighbors. Council Member Lisa Goodman emphasized that this is a "test period," and that if all goes well, the number of selling days could increase substantially.

Emily Hanson, a farmer at Stone's Throw, would like to see a higher number, but "15 is an OK compromise."

The height of hoop houses also led to some debate on the council. Hoop houses are used for starting plants earlier in the spring and extending the growing season in the fall. They are more temporary than greenhouses, with metal or wood frames covered in plastic.

Council Member Meg Tuthill advocated for a height limit of 6 feet. "People do not want to be walking out their back door and seeing a structure that is 12 feet high," she said, emphasizing that the structures are temporary and covered in plastic.

Farmers, however, said 6-foot hoop houses are not as effective.

"The reality is that we live in Minnesota and our growing season is short," Watters said. "In order to make business viable, we have to extend our growing season."

Under the rules approved Thursday, hoop houses would be allowed up to 1,000 square feet, or 50 feet by 20 feet, and 12 feet tall. If someone wants to put a hoop house in the yard of a one-to-four family dwelling, the hoop house can only stand 6 1/2 feet tall.

The new rule also allows bee-keeping, aquaculture and aquaponics.

Bryna Godar is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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